Chargers 30, Colts 24 OT: Nothing special in opening loss

CARSON, CA - SEPTEMBER 08: Running back Austin Ekeler #30 of the Los Angeles Chargers is congratulated by Justin Jones #93 and Melvin Ingram #54 after scoring the winning touchdown in overtime against Indianapolis Colts at Dignity Health Sports Park on September 8, 2019 in Carson, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – What caught our eye from the Indianapolis Colts’ season-opening 30-24 overtime loss to the Los Angeles Chargers Sunday at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson. The loss was Colts’ sixth straight on opening day, tying the Chicago Bears for the NFL’s longest active streak of futility.

Nothing special: Simple math sums up the opening misstep. And the sorry number is 14. That’s the number of points directly attributed to not-so-special teams.

Adam Vinatieri, 46 and in his 24th season, left 7 points on the field by missing 46- and 29-yard field goals and a PAT. It’s the first time in his 386-game career, including the postseason, he’s botched two FGAs and a PAT in the same game. He had knocked down 172-of-176 field-goal attempts of 29 yards or shorter in his career.

“We have the greatest kicker of all time and he didn’t have a good day,’’ Frank Reich said of Vinatieri. “It’s Adam Vinatieri. That’s the least of my worries right now.’’

Vinatieri dealt with a knee injury during the preseason, but Reich didn’t believe that contributed to Vinatieri’s rare off day.

Toss in another 4 points when Denico Autry was penalized for a personal foul on Ty Long’s 22-yard field goal on fourth-and-goal at the Indy 4. The Chargers took the points off the board, reset at the 2 and took a 7-0 lead on Philip Rivers’ 2-yard TD pass to Austin Ekeler.

Finally, Rigoberto Sanchez suffered a deflected punt when Notre Dame rookie linebacker Drue Tranquill beat Colts’ rookie safety Khari Willis for the deflection. That gave the Chargers a first-and-10 at the Indy 46 and they used the short field for Young’s 40-yard field goal and a 17-6 second-quarter lead.

“It’s heart-breaking,’’ Reich said. “(We) just didn’t do quite enough.’’

Nothing special, Part II: So much was expected from a Matt Eberflus defense that ranked 11th in the NFL a year ago. Its first step into ’19 left a lot to be desired.

The Philip Rivers-led Chargers piled up 435 yards and it was a diverse, big-play attack. Rivers passed for 333 yards and three TDs, but the serious damage seemed to come from running backs Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson. With Melvin Gordon holding out, the two lesser Chargers combined for 115 yards on just 18 carries. Jackson gashed the defense for 24- and 23-yard gains. Ekeler added a 19-yarder and ended things with a 7-yard TD through the heart of the defense midway through overtime.

The defense was one of the NFL’s best a year ago at limiting chunk plays. But along with the three 19-plus rushes, Rivers delivered six completions that picked up at least 20 yards. That included a 28-yard TD to Keenan Allen in the first half and a 55-yard TD to Ekeler in the third quarter. Allen outfought Colts’ rookie cornerback Rock Ya-Sin for his TD while Ekeler benefited when All-Pro linebacker Darius Leonard and corner Pierre Desir missed tackles on what was a simple screen pass.

Rivers seemed to have an answer whenever it mattered. He converted 7-of-11 third-down situations.

“They made the plays they needed to make to win,’’ Reich said. “It’s hard to say, but they deserved to win.’’

Brissett solid: Less than a week after signing a two-year, $30 million contract and settling in as the Colts’ quarterback of the future, Jacoby Brissett began issuing dividends.

“It’s not about the money,’’ he said.

Perhaps not, but Brissett was money: 21-of-27, 190 yards, two touchdowns to T.Y. Hilton, a 120.7 rating. At least two of his passes were dropped. Another, a delivery to the back of the end zone to Eric Ebron, was ruled incomplete when Ebron bobbled the ball when he hit the ground and rolled out of the back of the end zone.

“I thought Jacoby played really, really well,’’ Reich said. “That was a good start for Jacoby.’’

In just his 18th career start, Brissett was poise personified. He was sacked twice, but the Chargers were only credited with three other “hits’’ as the offensive line got its act together.

Brissett spread his 21 completions among eight receivers. Hilton led the way with 8 catches for 87 yards and the two scores.

Mack Attack: After an uneventful first half, Marlon Mack owned the Chargers. He finished with 174 yards on 25 carries, and 153 yards came after halftime. Reich is committed to relying on his ground game this season – the goal is a top-5 ranking – and the initial returns are encouraging.

Mack’s most important run might have been one of his shortest, a 2-yarder. After the Colts pulled to within 24-22 with 38 seconds remaining on Brissett’s 19-yard TD to Hilton, Reich dialed up Mach for the tying 2-point conversion. He powered into the middle of the line, followed the lead of left guard Quenton Nelson and tied things at 24-all.

Mack’s 174 yards were a career high, the most by a Colt since Edgerrin James’ 204 yards at Chicago in 2004 and the 11th-most in team history.

Reich said the Colts were going to stick to their run game even though they managed just 30 yards on 11 first-half attempts.

“Guys up front just executed,’’ he said. “One time in the game I was talking to Q (Nelson). I said, ‘How’s it going up there?’ He said, ‘Just keep calling them. Just keep calling them.’’’

The Colts finished with 203 yards on 33 carries.

Defense highs: While the overall performance was lacking, there were a few bright spots by the defense. Justin Houston recorded his first sack as a Colt and pushed his career total to 79.5. The defense finished with four: one each by Houston, Al-Quadin Muhammad and Kemoko Turay, and a shared sack by rookie Ben Banogu and Denico Autry. Another sack by Turay was wiped out by an offside penalty against Houston.

Also, safety Malik Hooker came up with a major highlight. With the Chargers leading 24-16 and threatening for more with a second-and-goal at the 7 in the third quarter, Hooker undercut an end-zone route by Allen, stuck up his right hand and snared the interception.

Medical update: Wideout Devin Funchess went to the bench with less than one minutes to play in regulation with an injury to his left shoulder. He did not return.

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.

 

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